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To watch
What: “Wings for Maggie Ray” documentary and discussion with writer, director and producer Philip Paluso
When: 8 p.m. Thursday on WFWA-DT, Channel 39

Honoring a pioneer

Early woman pilot, area native profiled in documentary

Ringenberg, 2003
Rod Taylor, left, owns a C-45 plane used in re-enactment scenes by Paluso and Cortolillo in Indianapolis.
Filmmaker Philip Paluso lines up a shot for the documentary.
Courtesy photos
Actress Taylor Cortolillo plays Women Airforce Service Pilots member and area native Margaret Ringenberg in re-enactment scenes for the documentary “Wings for Maggie Ray.”

There have been plenty of stories recounting the life of the late area resident Margaret Ringenberg from her days as a farm girl to World War II aviation pioneer, and now her story has made its way to film.

Writer, producer and director Philip Paluso wants his documentary to elevate the story of “Maggie Ray,” and the brave women she represents, to new heights.

Paluso, owner of Medium Cool Pictures, says his documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look at Women Airforce Service Pilots and the challenges they faced. Because the women were not officially part of the U.S. military, they did not receive veteran’s benefits until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation formally recognizing WASP members as veterans of World War II.

“Wings for Maggie Ray” will air Thursday on WFWA-DT, Channel 39.

“These women performed an important domestic chore,” Paluso says. “I wanted to show how Margaret was a part of that and how important it was that she was a part of it.”

A small Indianapolis Monthly story in 2008 about Ringenberg inspired him.

“I was captivated by it,” Paluso says. “She knew what she wanted and she went after it. With those types of folks, their stories need to be told.”

Ringenberg was one of more than 1,000 women recruited for the WASP corps during World War II to ferry planes as men were sent off to combat. At the end of the war in 1945, Ringenberg became a flight instructor and racing pilot. Flying planes well into her 80s, Ringenberg spent 40,000 hours airborne.

“She was just somebody who loved being in the air,” Paluso says. “Nothing was going to keep her from the next level.”

The aviator died at the age of 87 in July 2008 while attending an air show in Oshkosh, Wis. She was a resident of Leo-Cedarville. Only a month before, Ringenberg flew more than 2,000 miles from Bozeman, Mont., to Mansfield, Mass., in the women-only Air Race Classic. Not wanting to pressure the family so soon after her death, Paluso waited until early 2009, to ask Ringenberg’s daughter, Marsha Wright, for the family’s blessing.

“They thought it was a great idea,” Paluso says. “So at that point, I moved on the next level.”

Paluso began to gather archived photos and interviews. He interviewed Marty Wyall of Fort Wayne, who is the last WASP member living in Indiana, according to Paluso. His research showed Ringenberg considered herself to be just one person in a league of courageous women.

Paluso says his documentary also touches on how Ringenberg influenced the next generation. Paluso interviewed Air Force pilots Maj. Jackie Fleming and Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski. Paluso says both women have been inspired by the WASP corps and its contribution to women aviators.

Malachowski, a fighter pilot, is the first woman to fly with the Thunderbirds, a military flight demonstration team. She met Ringenberg when both were inducted into the Women in Aviation International’s Pioneer Hall of Fame in March 2008.

“She gained an appreciation for the WASPs after speaking with Margaret,” Paluso says .

He says he thinks Ringenberg never separating herself from her generation is one of the reasons journalist Tom Brokaw dedicated a chapter her in his 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation.”

“Women were essential to and leaders in the greatest national mobilization of resources and spirit the country had ever known,” Brokaw writes in the first chapter of his book.

After three years of work, the documentary premiered on Veteran’s Day on Indianapolis public TV channel WFYI-TV. Paluso says the film has received praise and is under consideration for national broadcast through American Public Television.

He hopes the spirit of the film, which he paid for, also captures the audience of Ringenberg’s hometown.

“My biggest concern is that she’s so revered in Fort Wayne,” Paluso says. “I just hope the folks in Fort Wayne and surrounding areas like the film.”